Listen now:
NBC Sports Sundays with Kup

Flames-Oilers Preview - NBC Sports

Flames-Oilers Preview
Calgary Flames celebrate a goal as Edmonton Oilers' Nikita Nikitin (86) and Matt Hendricks (23) skate past during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alberta., on Thursday Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jason Franson)
October 9, 2014, 10:13 am

The Edmonton Oilers have nowhere to go but up in the Western Conference, and their climb starts against a fitting opponent.

After finishing dead last in the conference, the Oilers open Thursday night at home against the Calgary Flames, the team they finished closest to in 2013-14.

The Oilers, who haven't made the playoffs since 2006, finished last season with 67 points, 10 back of Calgary in the Pacific Division.

Edmonton returns top forwards Taylor Hall (80 points), Jordan Eberle (65), David Perron (57) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (56). It also added forward depth by trading for Tampa Bay right wing Teddy Purcell and signing New York Rangers left wing Benoit Pouliot.

Maybe the biggest offensive question is how the second-line center role will be filled. Third overall pick Leon Draisaitl, Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander competed for the job during the preseason.

"The onus is going to be on Arcobello, (Lander) and (Draisaitl) to show they're ready to play," general manager Craig MacTavish said.

Defensively, Edmonton acquired Nikita Nikitin from Columbus and signed free agents Mark Fayne and Keith Aulie.

"We've added size, we've added depth and we've added some people who can make plays. You start putting your lineup on the board and these are established NHL players that give you some comfort," coach Dallas Eakins said.

"With the additions of those players and then with all of our other guys getting another year of experience, it's a step in the right direction."

It'll take quite a large step for that to have a significant impact. The Oilers ranked last in goals-against average (3.26) and finished tied for 22nd in goals per game (2.43), and their minus-67 differential was better than only Buffalo (minus-91).

Consistent goaltending was absent as the Oilers played six goalies. Ben Scrivens, a midseason acquisition from Los Angeles, was one and will start against the Flames after signing a two-year extension in the offseason. Viktor Fasth, a deadline acquisition from Anaheim, will play Saturday in Vancouver.

Scrivens had a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 19 games with Los Angeles and a 3.01 GAA and .916 save percentage in 21 with Edmonton.

Eakins inferred nothing should be read into the order for the first two games in terms of who will be the team's No. 1.

"We think that Game 1 is of equal importance to Game 2, to Game 12, to 13, to 72 or 80," Eakins told the team's official website. "They're all worth the same. We have two goalies that can certainly handle any one of those 82 games."

The Flames (0-1-0) elected to do the same with Jonas Hiller making his debut in Wednesday's 4-2 home loss to Vancouver, while Karri Ramo is slated to start this one.

"I don't think we'll declare a number one," coach Bob Hartley told the team's official website. "I really believe that we have two guys that can be number one's and who will provide us with number one goaltending."

The season-opening defeat featured second-period goals from Paul Byron and Jiri Hudler. Hudler, the team's point leader a season ago with 54, was assisted by defenseman Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan. The second-year center's status was uncertain entering the opener due to illness.

Calgary couldn't forge a tie before allowing an empty-netter, and it now embarks on a six-game trip.

"We have a young team and we're going to learn," Hartley said. "It's too bad because in the third, that's when we played our best hockey but we couldn't get the tying goal."

Calgary won three of five in last season's series with the road team winning each. The Flames have won four straight in Edmonton.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Channel Finder